Among the hip-hop community, it’s practically blasphemous to describe any post-millennium hip-hop album as “classic.” Any rap fan born before Bill Clinton’s presidency will be quick to shit on the slightest inclination that a classic album could exist outside of the ’90s Golden Era that produced All Eyez On Me, Ready To Die and The Chronic. These hip-hop heads say that rappers today lack the conviction and commitment to make a classic LP and record labels — with their artistically crippling profit motives — won’t get out of a rapper’s way to create such a body of work.
good kid, m.A.A.d. city
It’s very clear, however, that Compton rapper Kendrick Lamar set out to annihilate these theories with his major label debut, good kid, m.A.A.d city.
Kendrick’s debut is a cohesive, sonically innovative — and, yes — classic rap album that parallels Nas’s 1994 masterpiece, Illmatic, in lyrical vision. Both albums are devastatingly detailed representations of the ghetto microcosms these rappers hail from. Whereas Illmatic was an enthralling 39-minute boom-bap excursion through Nas’s Queensbridge, New York, GKMC is more of a feature-length, Boyz-N-The-Hood style, audio film study of Compton, Calif. — filled with skits that follow a storyline of Kendrick’s family problems, shady sexual encounters and firsthand accounts of brutal gun fatalities.
One of the two title tracks, “m.A.A.d city” — m.A.A.d being an acronym for “My Angels on Angel Dust” that defines Kendrick’s reserved love for his city’s drug-fueled inhabitants — is a shocking account of gang violence that first takes place over a menacing trap beat and switches halfway through to a powerful wave of orchestration and G-Funk synths. In the first half, Kendrick details the street battles of Compton — where there’s a war zone like “Pakistan on every porch” — and in the second half, he explains why he doesn’t smoke weed (his first blunt was laced with cocaine and had him tripping for a week) and calls himself “Compton’s human sacrifice.”
With “The Art of Peer Pressure,” a vividly painted first-person tale of a risky breaking-and-entering job with his homies, Kendrick has crafted one of the best storytelling rap songs of the past few years. On the vicious “Backseat Freestyle,” Kendrick spits like he’s trying to convince every set of ears in America he’s the greatest rapper alive, producing emphatic lines like “All my life I want money and power / Respect my mind or die from lead shower” and concluding the song in a remarkable, frenzied flow of shouted lyrics that further proclaim his dominance.
What really separates Kendrick from the rest of today’s rap artists is his 2Pac-esque ability to seamlessly mix heavy subject matter with more laid-back and accessible tracks over the course of an album. “Poetic Justice,” a song featuring rapper Drake and a soulful Janet Jackson sample, recalls the sex-driven jubilance of Pac’s “I Get Around” and is a sure-fire hit. “Money Trees,” which samples indie band Beach House, and “Bitch, Don’t Kill My Vibe” are chill-rap at its finest, and the closing track, “Compton,” is Kendrick’s modern, hard-hitting take on “California Love.”
At a summer concert in 2011, Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg ceremoniously passed the torch to Kendrick Lamar and crowned him the new king of West Coast hip hop in front of his hometown L.A. crowd. Though Kendrick only stands a miniscule 5-foot-6, this heavy crown seems to fit him perfectly.
good kid, m.A.A.d city is indeed a classic, and it will undoubtedly go down in history as one of rap’s greatest debut albums. It looks like this generation has finally found its 2Pac.